Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with film director Henry Joost of Catfish

Ariel “Rel” Schulman (left) and Henry Joost (right); illustration courtesy of Matilde Sazio

The co-directors of Sundance favourite Catfish, viagra 40mg   Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, met in high school and have been filmmaking partners since 2006. Together they founded the New York City production company Supermarché and have produced award-winning advertisements and documentaries for well-known companies and institutions, including Nike, American Express, Harvard Business School, Pitchfork Media and The National Scrabble Association. As an acknowledgement of their talent, the duo’s web short “What’s the Big Idea“, starring Danny DeVito, was nominated for a Webby in 2008.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Joost spent most of his childhood travelling the world with his mother, a photographer, and his father, an international banker. He is still an avid traveller and collector of cameras, which he uses to capture both film and still.

To celebrate the release of Catfish, Joost talks exclusively to Amelia’s Magazine about the inspiration behind the film, his views on social networking and the emotional rocky road he shared with the Schulman brothers (Nev, the film’s protagonist and Ariel, co-director), from the moment the cameras started rolling…

Illustration courtesy of Matilde Sazio

How was the initial idea for ‘Catfish’ conceived? What made you start filming Nev in the first place?
From my perspective the film began as one of Rel’s pet projects that I became increasingly interested in. When Nev and Abby’s story became like a living soap opera I joined in, filming Nev as well. We have a deal with each other and with our friends that it’s ok to film all the time. We keep a personal record of our lives with these little HD cameras we keep in our pockets. Sometimes it turns into something but more often than not the footage lives on a hard-drive, unwatched.

Did you have any expectations when you started filming?
Rel had an instinct that he was shooting what could become a charming short film about two artists meeting on the internet and inspiring each other. Or just another strange episode in his brother’s life. That’s enough for us to go on. It was only after 8 months of filming sporadically in the midst of our busy lives, that we realized that true nature of the story we were telling.

What makes Nev compelling as a protagonist? Why should we care what happens to him?
Nev is compelling to me because he’s one of my best friends and plays a huge part in my life. I think he has a natural charisma that people connect with.  He wears his heart on his sleeve and he’s not afraid to expose himself, which people respect. In Catfish he’s an everyman. We’re all looking for connections online, hoping to find love, friendship, or inspiration.

How did you find your directorial relationship with Ariel evolve over the course of filming? Were there any debates at any stage in how you wanted to approach things?
Rel and I have been working together for about 6 years now, so we have a natural and largely unspoken dynamic. I think our personalities complement each other and we rarely disagree. My role was often to keep the peace between the two brothers.

Illustration courtesy of Matilde Sazio

What was the most challenging thing about filming ‘Catfish’?
The most difficult thing for me was balancing making the film with fear for my personal safety, although that fear turned out to be unfounded. There is a moment in the film that was the scariest of my life, but I felt emboldened by the camera and knowing that we were on a quest for truth.

Has Nev’s experience made you more cautious of social networking?
I was cautious about social networking to start with, so this has only confirmed my suspicions. Although the contradictory effect of the film is that I’m also much more open to people I meet online now, because those people could turn out to be real friends or collaborators.

Do you think social networking has served to strengthen or weaken the depth of the relationships that we build with people?
I don’t think it’s possible to have more than a few close friends with or without Facebook.  Social networking has allowed us to maintain more superficial relationships than ever before with incredible speed and ease, but I don’t think it particularly affects our few real relationships.

I don’t have a Facebook account – can you give me one fool-proof reason why I should join?
Wouldn’t you like to know what your boyfriend from 8th grade looks like now?


Illustration courtesy of Aysim Genc

Prior to the revelatory moment where Nev discovers that ‘Megan’ has uploaded Suzanna Choffel’s version of Tennessee Stud as her own, did you at any point have any suspicions about Megan and her family? Did anything seem odd to you?
We did have suspicions at first. It seemed strange that this artist was giving her valuable paintings away for free. But suspicions about a potential financial scam were assuaged when Angela sent Nev a check for $500 – half of the winnings from an art contest Abby won with a painting of one of Nev’s photos. Suspicions were always addressed in a clever way or buried under a mountain of contradictory evidence.

Illustration courtesy of Aysim Genc

What were you most surprised about when you first met Angela?
I was completely surprised by Angela. We imagined a lot of scenarios, but in my wildest imagination I don’t think I could have ever conjured up Angela in all of her complexity. More surprising still was how well we all got along so well.

What were your own feelings towards Angela initially and did they change as you got to know her better?
I expected to meet some kind of villain behind all of this deception, so it was a relief to meet Angela. We found her to be fun, smart, and engaging and were happy that she and Vince really welcomed us into their lives.

Illustration courtesy of Aysim Genc

Is there a message you’d like viewers to go away with after having seen ‘Catfish’?
I think one of the great things about the film is that everyone brings their own experiences into the theater with them, and walks away with a different message. I would hate to color that in any way with my own personal opinion.

Do you think there is an element of Angela in all of us in how we go about presenting ourselves in the ‘virtual world’?
I think we all curate our online personae and what Angela did is incredibly relatable. Who among us has not de-tagged a photo, or agonized about our “interests” or “relationship status” on Facebook? Our profiles are a chance to present ourselves to the world in a way we can completely control – unlike face-to-face interaction.

Read our review of Catfish here.

Catfish is currently showing at selected cinemas across the UK and available on DVD from today.

Categories ,Ariel Schulman, ,Catfish, ,Danny DeVito, ,Henry Joost, ,Kat Phan, ,Nev Schulman, ,Sundance, ,Supermarché

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